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Posts Tagged ‘tomato’

spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and tarragon

In autumn, Italian, late summer, pasta, summer on 11 March, 2013 at 10:38 pm

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I’ve taken to drinking a lot of coffee on the weekends.

This leads, predictably, to the two o’clock jitters and empty stomach panic: I want to eat anything! everything! right this instant! I start flipping through cookbooks in a haze of craving and indecision, passing over recipes that take fifteen or twenty minutes or more, because I want something now, fifteen minutes is too long, I don’t have this or that ingredient, this looks like too much work and oh I might faint I’m too hungry now. (Fifteen or twenty minutes passes in this manner.)

The lifesaver comes in the form of Nigel Slater’s really handy book Real Fast Food and a recipe in it called “tomatoes fried in butter and sugar” or something like that, which immediately appeals to me for two reasons: 1) I have all the ingredients, having just bought a punnet of cherry tomatoes at the vege market, and 2) it’s called “tomatoes fried in butter and sugar”. Oh, also it takes just two minutes to make, according to the recipe. Excellent.

The problem is, I’ve got the empty-stomach caffeine shakes and I feel like I need to eat with these tomatoes some kind of substantial carb to settle me down, and I’ve got no bread (I’m kicking myself for not buying a loaf earlier, but what can you do). I do, however, have spaghetti and with that realisation I put down the book and get to work.

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Nigel’s recipe is really simple – to paraphrase: fry some tomatoes in butter and sprinkle a bit of sugar over at the end – but I feel like adding a little tarragon and parsley from the garden because I can. I add a little anchovy paste too, mostly because I’m excited about the lovely old-fashioned tube it comes in, but also to add a bit of extra oomph, because I can. I add the spaghetti to the skillet with the semi-saucy tomatoes and eat most of it out of the pan before changing my mind and transferring the rest to a plate (I really have no idea why. It tasted great either way).

My cherry tomatoes were mostly really big so I cut them in half, but if you can leave at least some of yours whole I recommend you do it: the whole ones sort of burst as you pierce them with your fork and spill their juices all over the mouthful of spaghetti you’re about to take. It’s glorious. The sugar gives it this sort of gentle sweetness reminiscent of slow-roasted tomatoes, and the softly sweet tarragon brings this out even more. And if you cook your pasta just a little past al dente then it almost becomes like a grown-ups’ version of tinned spaghetti. This is something I totally can get behind.

The best part about this meal? It was ready in the time it took to boil the jug and cook some pasta, and that’s really great when you’re shaky and hungry and must-eat-something-now. It’s super easy but I’ve posted some instructions below, for those who’d like a bit of guidance.

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SPAGHETTI WITH CHERRY TOMATOES & TARRAGON

Bring a pot of water to the boil (make sure you use plenty of salt) and chuck some spaghetti in there. In a skillet or heavy-bottomed frying pan, melt two or three tablespoons butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add some chopped tarragon (I used about a teaspoon worth but you could easily use a bit more) and about half a teaspoon (or more) anchovy paste*, fry for a few seconds, then add 250g cherry tomatoes. Cook for a couple minutes or until the spaghetti’s done. Reserve some of the pasta cooking water in case you need it to loosen up the sauce; drain pasta, add to the pan with the tomatoes, toss to coat. Add a bit of parsley before serving.

Serves 1 but can easily be doubled or tripled as needed. 

*You can easily omit the anchovy paste and make this dish vegetarian, if you’re so inclined.

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roast summer vegetables with feta & couscous

In summer, vegetarian on 31 December, 2011 at 1:42 am

Funny we’re less than 24 hours away from 2012, in what should be the middle of summer (here in the Southern Hemisphere, at least), and I’m sitting wrapped in a blanket, drinking cups of tea, listening to the rain and wind beating against the side of my house. Really, what is this?! Bring back the sun!

I’m back now from Christchurch, where I’ve been sitting around at my grandma’s house, exploring what’s new and/or relocated (using Neat Places as my guide), eating turkey and leftover turkey and puddings and ramen and catching up with family, hearing funny stories for the first time about my grandpa mailing his beard to my grandma before they got married (she wasn’t going to marry him with a beard, she said), breaking into fits of giggles over the cheap plastic toys that come inside Christmas crackers.

And of course when my plane landed in Wellington this morning it was raining, and not the fitful blustery stuff that spits and blows but doesn’t get you too wet and miserable, but the full-on pouring-down rain that’ll hit you in big splotchy raindrops even if you’re just crossing the road or running out to your car.

So I wanted to eat something for an unseasonably cold summer’s day, something vegetable-based (and thus close enough to almost count as a salad) but hearty at the same time. I was thinking about summer vegetables (in particular, courgettes and tomatoes) and then I remembered that, somewhere in between daydreaming and looking at old family photos at my grandma’s house, I had written a little list of memorable meals I wanted to recreate at home.

Near the top of that list were these baked eggs I had about a month ago at Birdman Eating in Melbourne. The eggs were baked in a skillet with roast capsicum, tomato, red onion, courgette and big, chewy, pearl-like mograbieh. The whole thing was flecked with bits of rosemary and served sizzling hot with sourdough toast and the best bloody mary I’ve had in a long time.

That morning was the first time I’d tried mograbieh, and it was one of those wide-eyed revelatory moments where you want to tell everyone around how absolutely delicious the thing you’ve just eaten is, except in my case I was eating alone, feeling slightly less than 100 percent after a night out, trying to regain some semblance of vitality before meeting up with my mum who was flying in later that day.*

But anyway, the mograbieh was incredible, especially with those roast vegetables. And it was something I vowed I’d try recreating at home. So today, having returned from Christchurch and family Christmas and not having cooked anything for the better part of a week, I headed to the shop to pick up some mograbieh.

I found it all right, but after seeing the price (twelve dollars for a bag, sigh) and doing some mental calculations (and giving myself an internal lecture: you cannot buy a twelve dollar bag of oversized couscous after overspending at Christmas, no matter how good it’s going to taste) I was about to give up, when I remembered the bag of Palestinian couscous I had picked up at a Trade Aid event a while back.

It’s no mograbieh, but I enjoyed it just as much, maybe even more: it’s wholegrain rather than refined like most couscous, which makes it a darker tan colour, a bit nuttier, more textured, somewhere in between pearl barley, bulghur and Israeli couscous. Definitely worth trying if you can find it (I think it’s also called maftoul).

This is one of those immensely satisfying dishes which has so many different flavours and textures going on: the sweet-melty roast capsicum, acidic tomatoes, smoky charred courgettes, deeply earthy mushrooms, near-caramelised onions and garlic. It’s multifaceted enough that you almost don’t notice it’s totally vegetarian (and can be easily made vegan by omitting the feta and butter) but if you want meat it’d also be great with pieces of chicken or sausage mixed in with the vegetables.

*By the way, if you’re planning on a night out in Melbourne I can wholeheartedly recommend a trip down Gertrude St in Fitzroy the next morning, either for the baked-eggs-and-bloody-mary breakfast at Birdman Eating (only $20!), or for limeade and arepas from Sonido. Yes.

ROAST SUMMER VEGETABLES WITH FETA & COUSCOUS

Preheat oven to 175C/350F.

Slice 1 capsicum* and 2 portobello mushrooms into strips, 2-3 cm wide. Cut a smallish red onion into vertical wedges and 6-8 cherry tomatoes into halves. Peel a few cloves of garlic (if you can get fresh, new season garlic, use it by all means!). Place on a baking tray (with the capsicums skin side up, tomatoes cut side up), drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and scatter rosemary leaves on top. Roast for 35-45 minutes, or until all the vegetables are cooked and the skin on the capsicum’s wrinkled and starting to blister.

Meanwhile, cook 1 cup couscous. Follow the instructions on the package**, but use chicken or vegetable stock instead of water, and stir in a handful of chopped parsley and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin while the couscous is soaking. Once it’s done, drizzle with olive oil and stir in a chunk of butter; fluff with a fork before serving.

Towards the end of the cooking time, slice 1-2 smallish courgettes on the diagonal and grill until cooked through and a bit charred on both sides.

Peel the skin off the capsicum (it should come off easily) and place in a bowl, along with the other vegetables. Add a bit of olive oil to the vegetables if they look a bit dry. Add some torn mint and parsley and as much or as little chilli powder and crumbled feta as you like; toss to combine. Taste and season with more flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper if needed.

Serve the vegetables on top of the couscous. This is one of those dishes that’s great both hot and at room temperature.

*Any colour is fine, though you may prefer to use the sweeter red, yellow or orange.

**I used this one, which is whole wheat and needed a bit more cooking time than usual.

chipotle penne all’arrabbiata

In pasta, year-round on 8 September, 2011 at 8:30 am

Here’s a quick post for a quick dinner: for when you’re too tired and hungry to do anything other than throw some pasta in some boiling salted water, open up a can or two, grate a bit of cheese and sink into the couch with a bowl full of noodles and a sigh.

It’s how I’ve been feeling lately, which I suppose is better than being bored, but it’s also not conducive to cooking elaborate meals or doing imaginative baking. Luckily I have some handy resources around like Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food, and while this recipe isn’t from that book, reading it has definitely reinforced the idea that whipping something up quickly from storecupboard ingredients doesn’t mean you have to have the same old boring thing or resort to prepackaged meals.

So, this pasta: it’s easy, you probably have most of the ingredients at hand (well, maybe not the chipotle peppers but they’re worth picking up), the sauce cooks in practically the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta. Normal arrabbiata sauce is good enough – simple but fiery from the addition of chillies – but one day I tried adding chipotle peppers instead of regular chilli, and I’ve been hooked on this Mexican-Italian (Mexi-talian?) twist ever since.

I’m sure someone else has invented this dish before, but for me it was born on the Fourth of July this year, which happened to fall on a Monday and a particularly busy work day at that. But I had promised an American friend I’d meet her for a beer after work, and by the time I got home it was 9 pm, I was exhausted and all I’d ingested since lunchtime was a couple of American craft beers and a handful of edamame (at the wonderful Hashigo Zake).

Now I’m definitely not advocating drinking and frying but some of my best kitchen breakthroughs (like mastering the art of the perfectly-poached egg) have come in that too-sober-for-takeaways, tipsy-enough-to-be-ravenous state we get into at one stage or other. This was no exception: I needed something substantial and satisfying – and fast. So I turned to pasta, looked in the cupboards with a stumped look on my face, spotted a can of tomatoes. My mind turned to arrabbiata.

I started chopping and frying the onions and garlic and then remembered the can of chipotle peppers I had emptied into a jar in the fridge. So instead of the traditional fiery hot arrabbiata sauce, I ended up making something smoky-spicy and utterly delicious.

Since then this has been my go-to recipe for a pasta dish that takes little to no effort but tastes like something special. It’s really not too far a stretch from the traditional arrabbiata sauce but the addition of chipotle adds an extra bit of dimension, a welcome surprise.

CHIPOTLE PENNE ALL’ARRABBIATA
(serves 2 or 3)

Heat a decent glug (a couple tablespoons at least) of olive oil in a skillet. Add 1/2 chopped onion and start to fry over medium heat. Mince 1 clove garlic and add to the onion along with 1-2 chopped canned chipotle peppers* and fry gently for a few minutes until the onion softens and starts to turn brown. Pour a bit of red wine into the pan and deglaze. Add a can of chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer until it reduces – 15 or 20 minutes is ideal, but if you’re in a hurry, until the pasta’s ready is fine.

Bring a pot of well-salted water to the boil and add about 200-250g penne. Cook until al dente, reserve a bit of the pasta water, drain.

Add the pasta to the sauce and give it a good stir so that everything’s nicely coated. Add some of the pasta water to thin out the sauce if needed. Serve topped with a bit of chopped parsley** and grated parmesan or pecorino.

*In Wellington, I get chipotle peppers from Moore Wilson’s – they come in those La Morena cans with the sultry lady on the front. A well-stocked supermarket is also likely to have them, or you could order online.

**Now that I think of it, this could be good with chopped coriander substituted for the parsley… hmm!

tomato, basil & ricotta salad (and pasta)

In late summer, pasta, salads on 2 March, 2011 at 12:08 am

(warning: skip this bit if you’re totally sick of earthquake stuff or if you’re otherwise not into musings on life and death and other topics that probably have no place in a food blog)

On Tuesday last week I was headed to a potluck dinner and had planned to make something awesome with tomatoes inspired by the latest Cuisine magazine. Instead I found myself, a half hour before I was due for dinner, standing outside Moore Wilson’s in a crowd of people staring open-mouthed at the television screen. Up till that point I had somehow weathered the day, watching the events unfold, making contact with loved ones till I was sure all family members in Christchurch were accounted for, but standing there among a group of strangers all sharing the same horror and disbelief changed something and suddenly the bag of tomatoes I was carrying turned to lead, my face crumpled into some unrecognisable shape and I knew I had to get home before someone saw me cry so I grabbed my bike and pedalled out into the drizzle, failing to even pretend that my cheeks were wet from the rain.

Now a week has passed. Though I can’t even begin to fathom what Cantabrians must be going through, for the rest of us it’s been a week of emotional extremes, from relief at learning that loved ones were safe, to heart-stopping panic at remembering a friend or acquaintance had just ventured South, to sheer despair and sadness at hearing the stories of those who weren’t so lucky, at seeing the images of a beloved city reduced to rubble. There’s been hope, too, in images like these and in seeing the massive collective effort New Zealanders (and plenty of people overseas) have put in to band together and support Christchurch.**** I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s awesome.

The other thing that seems to have sprung out of the earthquake, at least in Wellington, is this hypervigilance I (and plenty of others I’ve talked to) can’t seem to shake. The good thing about this is I’ve got my emergency kit sorted, but still. Every time I go outside I find myself eyeing up building facades and power lines, glass windows, with this sort of half-wary mistrust. At work my mind keeps wandering back to how quickly I could get under my desk if the earth started shaking, and if my desk would really do me any good. Part of this comes from living on a major fault line, the other from reading stories of narrow escapes and those who weren’t so lucky; it seems like in every story three seconds could have made the difference between life and death.

And that got me thinking about whether the whole freaking-out-about-The-Big-One thing is futile. I mean ultimately, if you break it down, life or existence or whatever comes down to this: the goal is to live, until you die. Maybe also reproduce, if you look at it from an evolutionary standpoint. I guess it’s taken a big event like this to make me think about the fact that death happens, can happen, at any time. It feels cruel, but in the end, there is no cruel, no kind, if you’re looking at the bare elements of life. Everyone lives, everyone dies. Some lives are shorter than others; they’re all lives nonetheless.

But being human we can’t just break life down to biological standards. We love and laugh, and weep and mourn, and losses cut deep and we can’t ignore the emotions that so inextricably link us to the events we experience, the people we interact with. So the best thing that I’ve been able to come up with in the last few jumbled days is a resolution to exist, to enjoy, to cherish others.

On the day in question the potluck I was headed to was for a dear friend’s birthday, something I wouldn’t miss for all the earthquakes in the world, and not just because when tragedy strikes you’ve got to surround yourself with your favourite people.  But I still had a bag full of tomatoes and not much time or inclination to cook. I had even less inclination to turn up to a potluck empty-handed. Which is how I got to making this salad.

When you’re feeling raw and cut up you may not want to eat something raw and cut up (my first instinct is to reach for a bowl of mac and cheese) but there’s something cathartic about chopping vegetables, and it was sure as hell easier to put together this simple salad than to think about cooking something at that stage.

And luckily it’s that time of year when tomatoes are at their fattest and juiciest and you don’t need much more than a few simple accompaniments to put together something delicious. This salad is roughly based on the classic Italian insalata caprese but with fresh ricotta instead of buffalo mozzarella (mainly because that’s what I had in the fridge). I’ve provided quantities to serve 2-3 as a side dish but feel free to adjust as necessary. If you want to make the pasta (recipe further below) the next day, maybe double the recipe so you have enough.

TOMATO, BASIL & RICOTTA SALAD (serves 2-3):

Chop 3 ripe tomatoes (more or less depending on size/type of tomato) into chunks; put in a bowl along with any juicy bits that may have seeped out onto the cutting board. Add a generous handful of fresh basil leaves* and pieces of firm, fresh ricotta**, pour a glug of olive oil into the bowl and season generously with good-quality sea salt and cracked black pepper. A drizzle of white balsamic wouldn’t go amiss, though at this time of year the tomatoes can easily hold their own with just some salt, pepper and olive oil.  Toss, taste, adjust seasoning as necessary, garnish with a few more basil leaves, serve.

This salad could easily accommodate chunks of avocado, or cucumber, or plenty of other summery bits and pieces – but for now I’ve kept it simple.

*torn if they’re quite big, but don’t chop them as they bruise easily.

**for this you’ll want to use ricotta that’s quite firm and sliceable. I used Zany Zeus but if you can only find the creamy variety in pottles you could also make your own (super easy and cheap) or else just make it a caprese salad and go for fresh mozzarella. The key is bits of fresh white cheese.

If you have leftovers and you’re looking for something a bit more substantial (as I was on Wednesday when awful reality started to sink in and that old deep-seated mac-and-cheese craving hit) this salad works well tossed with hot pasta. Slightly less bad for you (not that it matters) and there’s still not much out there more comforting than a bowl full of noodles:

VERMICELLI WITH TOMATO, BASIL & RICOTTA (serves 2):

Take the salad above* and toss with 250g** cooked vermicelli, or whatever pasta’s handy. I like it with vermicelli because the thin strands get coated with the tomato juices and flecked with ricotta and seem to carry the delicate fresh tomato and basil flavours quite well, but spaghetti or bucatini would work fine, too. Sprinkle with a couple of freshly torn basil leaves (especially if you’re making this the day after making the salad – the previous day’s basil will be dark green and wilted), crack some pepper over the top, eat while hot.

*this is best made with next-day leftovers because the salt will have drawn out the juices from the tomatoes and penetrated the ricotta chunks, thus giving you extra liquid to toss the pasta in, but if you’ve just made the salad and it seems a bit dry you could always add a bit of the pasta cooking water or a bit more olive oil.

**more or less, depending on appetite/preference.

****PS. it was probably more for my own good than anything else, but I’ve been doing a bit of baking for the “bring and buy” fundraising stall at the gorgeous little garden store Grow From Here at the top of Cuba St. It’s going on all week and a gold coin donation will get you baking, clothes, old vinyl, handmade candles, etc. On Saturday morning I hung out with Laura of Hungry and Frozen and her counterpart Tim and Kaye, who runs the place and had set up a space for the stall, and it was a lovely, laid-back morning gathering coins and being surprised by the generosity of everyone who stopped by. Laura’s got a pretty good rundown of the day on her blog, go check it out (I couldn’t have said it better, really).